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James the First, as a Father and a Husband

CALUMNIES and sarcasms have reduced the character of James the First to contempt among general readers; while historians, who have to relate facts in spite of themselves, are in perpetual contradiction with their own opinions. Perhaps no sovereign has suffered more by that art, which is described by an old Irish proverb, of “killing a man by lies.” The surmises and the insinuations of one party, dissatisfied with the established government in church and state, and the misconceptions of more modern writers, who have not possessed the requisite knowledge, aided by anonymous libels, sent forth at a particular period to vilify the Stuarts; the philosopher cannot treasure up as the authorities of history. It is, at least more honourable to resist popular prejudice than to yield to it a passive obedience; and what we can ascertain, it would be a dereliction of truth to conceal. Much can be substantiated in favour of the domestic affections and habits of this pacific monarch; and those who are more intimately acquainted with the secret history of the times will perceive how erroneously the personal character of this sovereign is exhibited in our popular historians, and often even among the few, who, with better information, have re-echoed these preconceived opinions.

Confining myself here to his domestic character, I shall not touch on the many admirable public projects of this monarch, which have extorted the praise, and even the admiration, of some who have not spared their pens in his disparagement. James the First has been taxed with pusillanimity and foolishness; this monarch cannot, however, be reproached with having engendered them! All his children, in whose education their father was so deeply concerned, sustained through life a dignified character, and a high spirit. The short life of Henry was passed in a school of prowess, and amidst an academy of literature. Of the king’s paternal solicitude, even to the hand and the letter-writing of Prince Henry when young, I have preserved a proof in the article of “The History of Writing-masters.” Charles the First, in his youth more particularly designed for a studious life, with a serious character, was, however, never deficient in active bravery, and magnanimous fortitude. Of Elizabeth, the Queen of Bohemia, tried as she was by such vicissitudes of fortune, it is much to be regretted that her interesting story remains untold; her buoyant spirits rose always above the perpetual changes, of a princely to a private state—a queen to an exile! The father of such children derives some distinction for capacity, in having reared such a noble offspring; and the king’s marked attention to the formation of the minds of his children was such as to have been pointed out by Ben Jonson, who, in his “Gipsies Metamorphosed,” rightly said of James, using his native term,—

“You are an honest, good man, and have care of
             YOUR BEARNS” (bairns).

Among the flouts and gibes so freely bespattering the personal character of James the First, is one of his coldness and neglect of his queen. It should, however, be difficult to prove by any known fact, that James was not as indulgent a husband, as he was a father. Yet even a writer so well informed as Dames Barrington, who, as a lawyer, could not refrain from lauding the royal sage during his visit to Denmark, on his marriage, for having borrowed three statutes from the Danish code, found the king’s name so provocative of sarcasm, that he could not forbear observing, that James “spent more time in those courts of judicature than in attending upon his destined consort.”—“Men of all sorts have taken a pride to gird at me,” might this monarch have exclaimed. But everything has two handles, saith the ancient adage. Had an austere Puritan chosen to observe that James the First, when abroad, had lived jovially; and had this historian then dropped silently the interesting circumstance of the king’s “spending his time in the Danish courts of judicature,” the fact would have borne him out in his reproof; and Francis Osborne, indeed, has censured James for giving marks of his uxoriousness! There was no deficient gallantry in the conduct of James the First to his queen; the very circumstance, that when the Princess of Denmark was driven by a storm back to Norway, the king resolved to hasten to the princess, and consummate his marriage in Denmark, was itself as romantic an expedition as afterwards was that of his son’s into Spain, and betrays no mark of that tame pusillanimity with which he stands overcharged.

The character of the queen of James the First is somewhat obscure in our public history, for she makes no prominent figure there; while in secret history she is more apparent. Anne of Denmark was a spirited and enterprising woman; and it appears from a passage in Sully, whose authority should weigh with us, although we ought to recollect that it is the French minister who writes, that she seems to have raised a court faction against James, and inclined to favour the Spanish and Catholic interests; yet it may be alleged as a strong proof of James’s political wisdom, that the queen was never suffered to head a formidable party, though she latterly might have engaged Prince Henry in that court-opposition. The bonhomie of the king, on this subject, expressed with a simplicity of style, which, though it may not be royal, is something better, appears in a letter to the queen, which has been preserved in the appendix to Sir David Dalrymple’s collections. It is without date, but written when in Scotland to quiet the queen’s suspicions, that the Earl of Mar, who had the care of Prince Henry, and whom she wished to take out of his hands, had insinuated to the king that her majesty was strongly disposed to any “Popish or Spanish course.” This letter confirms the representation of Sully; but the extract is remarkable for the manly simplicity of style which the king used.

“I say over again, leave these froward womanly apprehensions, for I thank God, I carry that love and respect unto you, which, by the law of God and nature, I ought to do to my wife, and mother of my children; but not for that ye are a king’s daughter; for whether ye were a king’s daughter, or a cook’s daughter, ye must be all alike to me, since my wife. For the respect of your honourable birth and descent I married you; but the love and respect I now bear you is because that ye are my married wife, and so partaker of my honour, as of my other fortunes. I beseech you excuse my plainness in this, for casting up of your birth is a needless impertinent argument to me (that is not pertinent). God is my witness, I ever preferred you to (for) my bairns, much more than to a subject.”

In an ingenious historical dissertation, but one perfectly theoretical, respecting that mysterious transaction the Gowrie conspiracy, Mr. Pinkerton has attempted to show that Anne of Denmark was a lady somewhat inclined to intrigue, and that “the king had cause to be jealous.” He confesses that “he cannot discover any positive charge of adultery against Anne of Denmark, but merely of coquetry.”1 To what these accusations amount it would be difficult to say. The progeny of James the First sufficiently bespeak their family resemblance. If it be true, that “the king had ever reason to be jealous,” and yet that no single criminal act of the queen’s has been recorded, it must be confessed that one or both of the parties were singularly discreet and decent; for the king never complained, and the queen was never accused, if we except this burden of an old Scottish ballad,

O the bonny Earl of Murray,
He was the queen’s love.

Whatever may have happened in Scotland, the queen in England appears to have lived occupied chiefly by the amusements of the court, and not to have interfered with the arcana of state. She appears to have indulged a passion for the elegancies and splendours of the age, as they were shown in those gorgeous court masques with which the taste of James harmonised, either from his gallantry for the queen or his own poetic sympathy. But this taste for court masques could not escape the slur and scandal of the puritanic, and these “high-flying fancies” are thus recorded by honest Arthur Wilson, whom we summon into court as an indubitable witness of the mutual cordiality of this royal couple. In the spirit of his party, and like Milton, he censures the taste, but likes it. He says, “The court being a continued maskarado, where she (the queen) and her ladies, like so many sea-nymphs or Nereides, appeared often in various dresses to the ravishment of the beholders; the king himself not being a little delighted with such fluent elegancies as made the night more glorious than the day.” This is a direct proof that James was by no means cold or negligent in his attentions to his queen; and the letter which has been given is the picture of his mind. That James the First was fondly indulgent to his queen, and could perform an act of chivalric gallantry with all the generosity of passion, and the ingenuity of an elegant mind, a pleasing anecdote which I have discovered in an unpublished letter of the day will show. I give it in the words of the writer.

August, 1613.
“At their last, being at Theobalds, about a fortnight ago, the queen, shooting at a deer, mistook her mark, and killed Jewel, the king’s most principal and special hound; at which he stormed exceedingly awhile; but after he knew who did it, he was soon pacified, and with much kindness wished her not to be troubled with it, for he should love her never the worse: and the next day sent her a diamond worth two thousand pounds, as a legacy from his dead dog. Love and kindness increase daily between them.”

Such is the history of a contemporary living at court, very opposite to that representation of coldness and neglect with which the king’s temper has been so freely aspersed; and such too is the true portrait of JAMES the First in domestic life. His first sensations were thoughtless and impetuous; and he would ungracefully thunder out an oath, which a Puritan would set down in his “tables,” while he omitted to note that this king’s forgiveness and forgetfulness of personal injuries was sure to follow the heat of their impression!


1 This historical dissertation is appended to the first volume of Mr. Malcolm Laing’s “History of Scotland,” who thinks that “it has placed that obscure transaction in its genuine light.”


Editor’s Notes

 § A new footnote is added to this article in later editions of the Curiosities, further to the sentence ending ‘such fluent elegancies as made the night more glorious than the day:’

See the article on Court Masques in the early pages of the present volume for notices of the elaborate splendour and costliness of these favourite displays.